“Faith is more than my guiding light. It is my kinetic energy.”
– Helen Keller
I recently attended an event and panel discussion on Islam. All panelists were people active in movements for human rights.
Something about the panel struck me immediately: there were no women on it who identified as practicing Muslims. In fact, there was only one woman on the panel at all. She certainly had valuable things to say, and I appreciated her perspective.
Unfortunately, though, no effort was made (that I know of) to include the voices of believing women on the panel. While the event was enlightening and positive overall, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by what I felt to be a conspicuous void in the conversation. While the men on the panel represented various levels of belief, there was no diversity when it came to women’s voices.
The implications of situations like these are, I think, grave. The fact of the matter is this: the panel was worthwhile, the sponsoring organization sincere in their mission, and the participants all passionate and intelligent people. However, what is the unspoken message when believing women are excluded from conversations about human rights, reason, and justice within Islam?
I trust you’ll all tell me if I’ve just gotten too caught up in the “politics of representing”. However, to me, the unspoken message – unintentional as it may have been – was that Muslim women aren’t inclined – or outspoken enough – to engage in public dialogues about human rights and our faith. Even when progressive viewpoints are presented, the silencing of the female Muslim voice reinforces the stereotype that women of faith are passive and not engaged with the relevant issues of our time.
I know this stereotype to be false; and I’m almost positive that the panel’s organizers would agree with me.
If it weren’t for my faith, I know I could not maintain my resolve through the trials of daily life. I know the same is true for countless Muslim women.
So, my question is this: how do Muslim women ensure that our voices are front and center in conversations like the one I attended? How do we demand that we are not ignored, even by those who claim to be interested in working for our rights?
“If anyone says, `Why have you included Rabia [often called Islam’s first female saint] in the rank of men?’, my answer is that the Prophet himself said: `God does not regard your outward forms’. The root of the matter is not form, but intention, as the Prophet said.” – Farid-ud-Din Attar, Tazkirat al-Auliya